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Huskies Are Suddenly Underdogs

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Wow, what a season. Fresno State is 2-0 and kicking up national dust, Miami quarterback Ken Dorsey appears to have sewn up the Heisman Trophy, UCLA posted a win at Alabama and the University of Washington has

The biggest stories coming out of Seattle to date are Coach Rick Neuheisel’s pay hike and a star recruit walking out of camp because of homesickness.

“It doesn’t concern me because there is a lot of football to be played before they are going to hand out any prizes,” Neuheisel said.

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But, of course, it does concern the Pac-10’s richest coach.

“I was watching the Oregon State-Fresno State game and one of the commentators was ready to hand out the Heisman and put Fresno State in the BCS,” Neuheisel said. “It just tickled me because here we are in Week 2 and we are already deciding who is going to play in what game and so forth.”

No. 15 Washington enters the discussion Saturday at home against No. 11 Michigan.

“We have a chance right out of the box to prove that we belong in the national scene,” Neuheisel said.

Washington has been in on the sports-talk short end before. Last year, Miami claimed it should have been in the national title game because it had defeated Florida State head-to-head, rarely mentioning that one-loss Washington could have made a similar claim because it had defeated Miami.

Washington was in the midst of a Rose Bowl run, so Neuheisel couldn’t make too much of a public fuss at the risk of demeaning the trip to Pasadena. This year, the combination of Washington’s late start and uncertainty at quarterback has left the Huskies with their spikes stuck in the starter’s block.

It’s difficult to sign off on a team that lost 12 starters and is breaking in a new quarterback to replace Marques Tuiasosopo, one of the best in school history. Yet, this isn’t a one-hit-wonder school and Neuheisel was certainly not tickled his team was picked to finish fourth in the Pac-10 this year.

The Huskies have plenty of raw talent, but no one is ready to size any championship rings. The season will rise or fall on quarterback Cody Pickett, who won the job over Taylor Barton.

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If nothing else, Pickett, the son of rodeo star Dee Pickett, may be the conference’s toughest quarterback. When Washington fired coach Jim Lambright three years ago, Pickett was set to transfer to Arizona State before a last-minute phone call from Neuheisel changed his mind. Neuheisel later visited Pickett at his home in Campbell, Idaho. To get there, Neuheisel had make a turn on “Chicken Dinner Road.”

“I can’t imagine tougher people than those who travel around from city to city, roping cattle,” Neuheisel said. “That is rugged.”

We know Pickett can rope a cow. But can he throw a spiral?

Pac Bits

There will not be two spinal cord miracles in successive weeks. Penn State’s Adam Taliaferro made a triumphant return last week, leading his teammates out of the tunnel against Miami, but Washington’s Curtis Williams faces a more sobering reality.

Williams, paralyzed from the waist down during a game against Stanford last year, will not be able to attend Saturday’s game. Neuheisel said several people offered their private planes to fly Williams from Fresno to Seattle this week, but the planes could not accommodate Williams’ wheelchair.

Neuheisel, like many , was touched by Taliaferro’s return. “To see him run onto the field was a very emotional thing for several people,” he said. “I just can’t tell you how much I hope for that to happen to Curtis some day.”

More details on Neuheisel’s new contract, which will pay him at least $1.212 million annually and as much as $1.462 if he meets academic and performance incentives:

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* He will receive $100,000 if Washington reaches a BCS bowl game and $150,000 if the Huskies play for the national title.

* His housing allowance was increased $40,000 to $200,000 annually, and his endorsement package improves $80,000 to $385,000.

* He also receives a family travel allowance and country-club membership.

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